Bowthorn's Beginnings

The original lease is believed to have once formed a part of Lawn Hill Station, which was taken up in the 1860s.  It is not known when Bowthorn became a separate property of 497 square miles in area, but sometime between the late 1940s and early 50s its first owner would appear to have been William ‘Smiler’ Smith, an old bagman who lived with the Aborigines, and mustered the place for grog and tobacco money.

‘Smiler’ was killed on the Normanton race-track (riding dead drunk) in 1955 and his estate was bought up by James Boyd, retired publican and owner of the Boyd Hotel in Mount Isa.  Old Jim built a shed, erected a bit of fencing and a yard or two.  His contractors swindled him, cutting Ti-tree (Melaleuca sp.) posts and railings which rot within a few years – but Jim didn’t know this.

Following Jim’s death his son Marshall inherited both pub and station and used the latter as a place to recover bar debts.  Ringers who ran up a slate and couldn’t pay were dispatched to work it off.  Consequently some mighty poor ringers chivvied the quiet cattle around and let the rest turn into scrubbers.  Marshall sold whatever they picked up – breeders, bulls, heifers – and left the place unimproved.

In August 1966, Bowthorn passed into the hands of the McGinnis Family, when they gave up droving to become property owners.  At that time there was only one shed, one horse paddock, three old yards, and 300 head of scrubber cattle. The scrub cattle were replaced by Brahman crossbreds, and many improvements were made, such as fencing, bores, dams and yards, and a 40 square brick homestead which the McGinnis family built themselves.  There were no internal roads so the McGinnis’ used pack plants and went everywhere on horseback for the first ten years or so until work began on the roads which now service the property.

Up until 1970, all the Gulf country was open range.  The only fencing was horse paddocks or small holding paddocks. There were no boundary fences and consequently nothing to stop cattle from Property A straying onto Property B, C, or if they wished D!  A gentleman’s agreement existed between owners regarding the return of strayed stock but big cleanskins (weaned, un-branded offspring of those cows) were a contentious issue. The usual arrangement between neighbours was to split them; however, poddy-dodging (stealing un-branded calves) by persons unknown (but pretty accurately guessed at) was a common Gulf pastime. Few offenders were ever charged as they tended to rise earlier and ride harder.  Much of the rough range country was dotted with hidden yards. There are still caves away from the main routes where pack saddles and rotting green hide ropes can be found, abandoned by the cattle duffers.

In the 1970s, intermittent testing of herds for brucellosis and tuberculosis commenced.  This grew into the full-scale BTEC program which ran through the eighties and brought an end to open-range grazing.  An effective eradication campaign demanded effective quarantine areas and clean musters.  Properties were boundary-fenced, then cut into paddocks.  Helicopter and motorbike musters replaced the old eight and ten men stock camps, and droving ceased.  All stock had to be transported by truck directly to markets to avoid possible contamination of watering points and pastures between their home range and destination.

For many years Bowthorn had no mail service and picking up and posting mail, along with getting food supplies, meant a drive to Doomadgee Mission once a month - a 100 mile round trip. Sale cattle were droved south to Lawn Hill or Gregory (60 miles and 100 miles respectively) to truck them to sale yards, as in those days the station tracks were impassable for road trains.  In the early 70s the property was gazetted as a Fauna Sanctuary. Telephone, television and weekly air services brought Bowthorn in touch with the modern world, but much of the history of the past has been retained for posterity.

Additional area, taken from the vacant Turn Off Lagoons block in April 1984, made the Bowthorn lease up to 897 square miles.  Bowthorn Station’s western boundary abuts onto the Territory border and it is watered by the Nicholson River and the Musselbrook, Elizabeth and Accident Creeks.

The BTEC program dragged the Gulf cattle industry into the 20th century, but at a great cost to the country.  There are fewer people, few family-owned stations and fewer auxiliary workers –contract musterers, drovers, saddlers, horse-breakers – in the Gulf today than there were thirty, fifty or even a hundred years ago.

In 2005, the property was bought by EC Throsby Pty Ltd and the 6,000 head of cattle are now managed by a station manager.

Kingfisher Camp was established in 1994 as a tourist campground situated on the lower end of a 5km waterhole in the Nicholson River.  With grassed and shaded campsites, ablution block, boat hire and self-guided tours and a kiosk to service campers and staff in residence, it has proved to be a popular venue with travellers and holiday makers.

~ Kerry McGinnis
~ How Many Grids to Gregory? (Published by the Gregory Branch QCWA in 1977)